What GPs need to know about integrative medicine
Integrative medicine has been practiced for decades, and an increasing number of practitioners are choosing to use a combination of traditional and evidence-based medicine to treat their patients. Even if you’re not a specialist in this area, as a GP it’s important to have an awareness of integrative medicine, especially when it comes to prescribing.
Adverse interactions can occur with many complementary medicines, supplements and even certain foods. So what can practitioners do to avoid this and keep patients safe?
What is integrative medicine?
Integrative medicine is the fusion of traditional medicine and evidence-based complementary medicine. While integrative medicine used to be largely considered a fringe type of medicine, demand from patients is increasing, even in mainstream medical settings.
Integrative medicine looks at both the symptoms of an illness and the cause. Using diet and lifestyle as the foundation, integrative practitioners aim to treat the root cause of disease and promote wellness. This is a direct contrast to conventional medicine, which is more often aimed at treating and managing symptoms.
What do GPs need to know about integrative medicine?
In spite of the mounting evidence supporting the efficacy of natural medicines, there is still a tendency among many GPs to dismiss the idea of food, supplements and other natural remedies. With natural medicines growing in popularity, there’s a good chance that patients are already taking something other than conventional medication, whether you’re aware of it or not.
Ignoring the possibility that patients are taking natural medicines or supplements can be potentially harmful. If you’re not aware that fish oil is a blood thinner and St Johns Wort can make the contraceptive pill less effective, your patients could be adversely affected.
Unfortunately, many patients are not comfortable telling their GP that they are taking natural medicines for fear of disapproval. Even if they are comfortable talking about it, they may not think to mention a particular supplement or other natural medicine as they might not be aware that it’s relevant. It’s up to practitioners to be proactive and find out what patients are taking.
So what do you do when your patients tell you they are taking an unfamiliar supplement or natural medicine? This is where a willingness to do some research can help, although this can be challenging when busy. A medicines information database that covers natural medicines, as well as conventional medicines, can be a great resource for education and for patient education too.
It’s time for GPs to accept the fact that patients are going to be taking different things and work on being part of that conversation. By being aware of the likelihood that patients are taking a complementary medicine and making the effort to ask them about it, you can help keep them safer and make sure you are prescribing the most effective and appropriate medicines.
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